July 31, 2022
C-Store management questions CLEAR the air. Great managers use questions to build teamwork, develop new skills and avoid misunderstandings.
- Clarify problems
- Learn how your team thinks
- Encourage new thinking
- Appreciate staff knowledge and skill
- Respect your team
Questions help to get answers and share information effectively. The goal of communication is to share the same view of a situation, problem, or experience. Great questions not only remove assumptions and provide an accurate understanding, they also provide the opportunity for participation, thinking, respect and even appreciation.
It is helpful to avoid embarrassing, harassing, nagging or tricking anyone to maximize the value of questions. Ensure that the question is delivered with a tone and intention to help everyone find the truth and share it as needed.
Things to Avoid in a Question
- Gotcha points – avoid trapping anyone accidently or intentionally
- Sarcasm – respect your teammates
- Harsh tones – lower the temperature to avoid panic and fear
- Complexity – make it clear what is being asked
- Interrupting – provide time for the full answer
To maximize the value of questions, consider how you enjoy sharing with others. That is, think about what makes a conversation enjoyable and productive. Discomfort is not entirely avoidable, but the more trusting and safer the situation, the more likely new insights can be shared.
When c-store problems happen, they must be fixed. It may be impossible to avoid all problems, but everyone wants things to run smoothly. When things break, back up, get too dirty or just are not as they are needed, c-store managers fix them. Without addressing the problem fully, it will often happen again and again. Ensuring that a problem is both fully solved and will not happen again is the goal. Questions are a key management tool to not only fixing the problem but making changes to minimize or avoid them in the future.
Not All Staff Are the Same
Managers can assign work and give instructions to do the work and some staff will learn from this approach and the issue will be resolved. Some will even apply this better approach to their future work. Others, however, may think they only have to do the work they are instructed to do. Worse, some may believe that they are not to do anything unless they are told do so.
When things go wrong, asking a few questions such as what happened, how long has it been happening and what has been done to fix it can shed a light on the severity and longevity of the issue. A few more questions about how the problem was recognized and if any related work has been done such as bathroom cleaning or temperature checks that may impact a problem with a bathroom or a cooler. Further questions as to how much time was needed to clean the bathroom, may uncover plumbing issues or heavy traffic that impacted the bathroom cleaning cycle. A cooler may be a result of suppliers loading the cooler, heavy traffic or a failing compressor.
Depending on the staff, sometimes a few simple questions illuminate a problem:
- How did it happen?
- What can we do to prevent it?
- What has been done so far?
Understanding the Problem’s Human Source
As questions answered, dialogue often occurs that will explain the situation. Knowing if it is a staff skill, workload or attitude issue helps to pinpoint a solution. A broken compressor requires repair. Even if there is no one available to repair the cooler, there may be work that needs to be done immediately to minimize any spoilage. Even without a full solution, their may be a partial or temporary fix. Measures may be need to restrict access to maintain temperatures or moving things to working coolers to avoid spoilage.
Obviously, some problems are very simple and do not need a lot of in-depth technical analysis. Even simple problems, however, if they keep happening may deserve attention and investigation (i.e. questions and discussion). For example, if a crew consistently has dirty stores and low sales, there may be a problem with staff, management or the customer environment that needs attention. Many times, staff will not share important information about bad teamwork or work performance unless they are asked.
Learn How Your Team Thinks
Answers to questions show how someone thinks. Those with lots of experience, will have a large base of problems and fixes at their disposal. Even with solutions that may not be the fastest or most long term, it is clear to see how someone approaches a problem. Many times, a new approach may prove to be better rather than just doing it like it is always done. Other times, the old way may be easier and more long lasting. Regardless, know how the person thinks provides the opportunity to ask more questions and get more feedback. It also allows other ways to analyze or address problems to be shared.
Most problems have to do with work that is not done, done partially, or done too late. This can be overseeing suppliers, cleaning bathrooms, stocking shelves, or any tasks in the store. If the work has not been done well and is not addressed, the staff will learn that the past way of work is acceptable. That is, lack of follow to ensure proper work allows staff to feel that their work is satisfactory. Follow up is a great way to maximize the value of questions.
When interacting with staff with questions, they get the chance to answer and learn. When the questions and the feedback or positive and encouraging, they stay engaged and learn new techniques. Ideally, when tough situations arise, they have some direct examples or some guidelines to put into action. Of course, new things always pop up. Given them the confidence that you will support them as long as they are professional, encourages great customer experiences and keeps the staff confident they are trusted. Everyone wants to know the boss has their back, as long is they are trying to do the right thing. Even if things go wrong.
Encourage New Thinking
C-store managers typically do a lot on hiring and training. Spending enough time without wasting time with too much detail nor rushing and not ensuring completion leads to turnover and problems. On-boarding is more than just skill and compliance teaching. Obviously, there are basics, like POS operations, shift duty assignments, payroll and governmental rules that must be explained and ‘told’. However, there are so many nuances to serving people, that c-store cashiers need to also know the culture or approach to customer interactions. Using examples in the store, sharing past experiences helps. When managers ask staff how they would handle certain situations and give feedback they allow safe learning. Even better, when cashiers get to think about situations and ask about past experiences, they build their customer service toolkit. Learning is another way to maximize the value of questions.
Promote Analysis and Sharing
Most c-stores, have numerous hours of operations in which cashiers work with clients, clean or stock with little or no supervision. By using questions and sharing ways to think about problems, staff gain new skills and confidence to approach problems directly. Empowering the staff to think and try different solutions (while maintaining basic safety and compliance guidelines) streamlines work and keeps things moving. Managers need time to rest, and staff need the confidence to make decisions for the things they can handle themselves. Using a checking process that respectfully learns with questions can reinforce great decisions and improve ones that are not as good as needed.
Appreciate Staff Knowledge and Skill
All c-store managers know that staff appreciation is their super-power. Giving praise and recognition is so important to build teamwork and alignment. Positive feedback is the grease of c-store operations. However, not all praise is equal, and some praise can be harmful. Praise needs to be genuine and specific. Telling someone they did a great job without even knowing what they did can make the person feel cheated or manipulated. Further, some people are less open to public praise and prefer a quiet way out of the spotlight. But everyone needs to be recognized for their work and effort.
A counter-intuitive, yet highly effective form of appreciation can include questioning. After recognizing good effort, it can be both a learning experience for yourself and others to ask how the good results were achieved. Be careful not to take away the credit when asking staff if your feedback help. However, asking questions and getting the response is a great way to reinforce and strengthen a good work process.
Respect Your Team
As part of the overall balance with staff and management, it is important to show proper respect for everyone. While c-store management requires respect and some hierarchy for tasks such as scheduling, compensation, and compliance, the more equal we make the work the more we focus on customer experience. Most c-stores focus on manager and staff retention as a key to their success. Many studies and common-sense show that staff leave when they feel they do not have a path forward for themselves, their career is not being addressed or their boss is not supportive. Showing respect and fairness is key.
With all interactions avoiding the negatives such as ‘gotchas’, sarcasm, harshness, undue complexity and rudeness are the basics for respect. While we are all prone to stress and mistakes, good c-stores operate in a pleasant and positive environment. Avoiding the negative styles it the basic expectation for workers.
Respect Through Involvement
Getting buy-in and a growth mindset occurs when all the CLEAR goals are achieved – clarity, understanding, learning, appreciation and respect. With such a great environment, asking staff their ideas with questions not only shows respect and equality of capability, it provides new ideas that makes c-store operations grow. The staff is the most expensive and important factor in c-store growth. Involving them fully provides a great way to provide value and meaning to the staff and their careers. As a bonus, it also makes c-store operations better.
Everyday Management and Questions
Everyone knows how to ask questions. When done well, questions engage your staff and help them to learn. Some even say that coaching is more about questions than anything else. Spend some time to think more about questions. Encourage your team to ask you questions and challenge your thinking. Focus on the positive, the learning and watch your c-store growth!